redefinED atlanta believes that authentic and regular parent and community engagement is a critical factor in advancing our vision of every child in every community receiving a great K-12 public education. The best school leaders and teachers understand their students’ and communities’ unique needs and have thefreedom, flexibility, and support to serve those needs. Active parent and community engagement are essential to establish levers of support for every student.
That’s why in 2022, we began awarding Family and Community Engagement grants to schools serving Atlanta students. In the coming weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts in which school leaders will share how these flexible grant dollars helped them serve their school community better. First up is Principal Robin Christian of Barack and Michelle Obama Academy (BaMO), a pre-K-5th-grade school in Peoplestown.
These features come as we’re investing another $100,000 to support schools throughout the 2023-24 school year. Eligible Title I schools can apply for up to $10,000 to support their broader family engagement plans across the school year. We hope to strengthen each grantee’s engagement strategy and look forward to creating stronger community ties within our partner schools.
Now, here’s Principal Christian of BAMO:
redefinED atlanta: To start us off, can you share a bit about BAMO in terms of its educational programs and size?
Principal Christian: We run a couple of programs in addition to our K-5 classrooms, including a pre-K program and regional special education units, so we serve between 250-270 students. Being such a small school helps us form bonds with families, but our size can be a sore spot when it comes to budgeting, which is based on how many students we serve.
redefinED: What are some of the main challenges associated with serving a smaller student body?
Principal Christian: We’re actually in one of the smallest attendance zones in the entire school district, which impacts funding for programs.
We serve Peoplestown, one of the most historic communities in Atlanta and a highly marginalized community. Think Rashard Brooks and so many of the tragedies that have hit the nation’s media circuit; it’s a host of social injustices.
We serve a lot of families living in subsidized housing, and right now we’re enduring one of the fastest rates of gentrification in the Atlanta metro area. So a lot of our families are being pushed out and fewer of our educators can afford to even live here. We’re a very resourceful community, so we’re trying to do what we can with what we have.
redefinED: What goals have you been hoping to achieve as a school? How has receiving the Family and Community Engagement grant supported your work to date?
Principal Christian: There’s this myth that when schools serve a large population of families of color, that families are not engaged. As a school, we counter that myth: we remain big on family engagement. With its grant, redefinED atlanta is helping us provide incentives to increase attendance rates amongst our students.
The ability to create this space for bonding amongst students and families, that’s the important work that we’ve been able to focus on. redefinED helps us strengthen our academic parent-teacher teams and create connections between families and faculty in meaningful ways. We’re able to sit with parents and assess academic achievement data, and we’ve implemented a very student-focused agenda.
redefinED: Have you seen any positive shifts in attendance thus far?
Principal Christian: Last year, we had one of the lowest attendance rates in the district, but we’ve already seen an increase of almost 5 percent. Thanks to the redefinED atlanta FACE grant, we host monthly events where students can use positive behavior points toward purchasing items from an attendance cart. This gives the students a sense of agency and, frankly, it helps make school more fun. We also take steps that don’t cost any money at all, like giving students shout-outs over the loudspeaker. They all want to hear their name!
The unrestricted funding has let me do what is best for my school community. We can’t use our district dollars to offer food for families who attend events, but everyone likes free food – regardless of socioeconomic status – and it can help attract more people. The redefinED grant lets us offer families refreshments at our events, and it’s helped us draw more families.
We now have the highest attendance rates in our cluster. We’re changing the narrative. The BAMO community is grateful to come together with these new initiatives in place.
redefinED atlanta funds critical work to drive equity in education and promote great schools in Atlanta. We believe the best school leaders and teachers understand their students’ and communities’ unique needs. They work best when given the trust, freedom, flexibility, and support to serve those needs. Active parent and community engagement are essential to establish levers of support for every student. We’re offering new Family and Community Engagement grants for the 2023-24 school year. Visit redefinedatlanta.org/facegrant/ to learn more.